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Ever wonder what it means when you hear that someone is in critical condition? I think we all have a vague notion of what this entails.
"Critical" sounds like things can go either way, "fair" sounds like they're on their way to recovery. "Critical" makes us hold our breath, "fair" gives us permission to breathe easier.
The American Hospital Association has issued guidelines on this subject. The AHA advises doctors as to how to describe a patient's condition to those who want to know.
These terms are not used amongst doctors. When discussing a case, they will go into detail with each other about medical matters that are mutually understood. For the rest of us, a short hand term will get the general idea across.
Each of the following descriptions of a patient's condition makes reference to vital signs. Vital signs refer to a patient's blood pressure, breathing rate, heart beat and temperature. By monitoring these signs, the medical staff is better able to determine a patient's condition.
"Criticial condition" is the most serious situation. Vital signs are neither normal nor stable, and the patient may not be conscious. Unless things change, the prognosis isn't good.
"Serious condition" indicates that vital signs are not stable. The patient is very ill, and recovery is not certain.
"Fair condition" means that the patient's vital signs are normal. The patient will be conscious though perhaps feeling discomfort. There is reason to expect recovery.
"Good condition" denotes stable vital signs. The patient is conscious and feeling comfortable. The future looks promising.
"Undetermined condition" means what it sounds like. The doctor has not yet been able to assess the patient's condition.
The AHA advises physicians to avoid using the word "stable" in association with another condition that may be critical because it may be misunderstood by its hearers. Critical is still critical, even if some body systems are stable.
One reason that these generalized terms are used to describe a patient's condition is out of respect for the patient's privacy.